Islam in SEA workshop: “Bureaucratic Islam Amidst Political Transformation in Malaysia” by Maznah Mohamad

We are very happy to announce that one of the participants of the exploratory workshop on Islam in Southeast Asia is Dr Maznah Mohamad. The workshop will be held on September 21, 2018 (Friday) at the National Institute for Science and Mathematics Education Development (NISMED) of the University of the Philippines Diliman. She will present her current research entitled “Bureaucratic Islam Amidst Political Transformation in Malaysia.”


This paper will revisit the growth and strength of ‘bureaucratic Islam’ and its institutions and authority in Malaysia since the late 1970s. As a political strategy by the Mahathir government then to control and manage the growing and competing power of a revitalized Islam over Malaysia’s majority Muslims a centralized Islamic bureaucracy was set up. This move was not fully in line with Malaysia’s national constitution as the authority over Islam is vested in the hands of local rulers in a decentralized federal system. But Mahathir’s authoritarian powers (in his first stint as prime minister) still succeeded in transferring the strength of Islam into the hands of a bureaucratic Islamic authority (together with an expanded Syariah judicial system). This was ostensibly to have more control over its direction. Much of this authority eventually overstepped the civil liberties and human rights of both Muslims and non-Muslims. However, the change of government, after 60 years, in the recently concluded 2018 general election saw some effort to revise the situation. Ironically it would be the same Mahathir that would be trying to cut back on his earlier strategy of containing Political Islam. This paper assesses the extent of resiliency of bureaucratic Islam in the face of Malaysia’s wider political transformation.

Author’s profile:

Maznah Mohamad is an Associate Professor with the Department of Malay Studies and the Department of Southeast Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. She was formerly Associate Professor with Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang, and in 2001, was Visiting Professorship in ASEAN Studies at the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto. Her areas of teaching and research include Gender Studies, Religion in Southeast Asia, the Malay World, and Political Islam and the Family. Her published books include The Malay Handloom Weavers: The Rise and Decline of Traditional Manufacture (1996), Feminism and the Women’s Movement in Malaysia (2006), Muslim-non-Muslim Marriage: Political and Cultural Contestations in Southeast Asia, (co-edited, 2009), Melayu: The Politics, Poetics and Paradoxes of Malayness (co-edited; 2011), Changing Marriage Patterns in Southeast Asia: Economic and Socio-Cultural Dimension (co-edited, 2011) and Family Ambiguity and Domestic Violence in Asia (co-edited; 2013).

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